The crossover is beyond risky—it’s near career suicide. When an actor tries to cut an album, it usually makes a miraculously quick journey to the bottom of the Sam Goody discount box. When a musician makes a movie, it usually ends up playing at malls that center around a Burlington Coat Factory.
Don’t believe me? Try to name the last film starring a successful musician that didn’t suck (to be fair, no Tupac allowed). Most people thought 8 Mile, Eminem’s debut, semi-autobiographical pic, would follow the route of Cool as Ice or Crossroads—that it would be an embarrassing, hyperbolic extension of one of his crass videos. They were wrong. In the same way that it’s unfunny now to make fun of mullets as white-trash styling, dissing Eminem as a dumb-ass jerk is getting old. His album earlier this year proved he’s got legs; 8 Mile proves he’s got chops.
Eminem is Jimmy Smith, a.k.a. Bunny Rabbit. As the film opens, Bunny chokes at an MC battle and grimly goes back to his trailer park and job at a metal pressing plant. His life is a wash: no cash, no apartment, a mess of a mom, and a girlfriend who might be pretending to be pregnant. All he’s got is his rhymes and the faint glimmer of a record contract or winning the MC battle.
8 Mile is surprising and vital not so much for what it does, but for what it doesn’t do. There is almost nothing in this movie that feels embarrassing, cloying, or cheesy. The cinematography is gritty, yet not overwrought. Eminem is intense, vitriolic even, but not a caricature. The banter between Bunny and his friends is funny, not glib.
Director Curtis Hanson infuses the movie with both a slow-build focus and sincerity that give the movie a palpable, even moving presence. By the climax, an MC battle in a dingy club, it becomes clear that 8 Mile is rousing entertainment and that Eminem might be our most interesting cultural superstar.